February 29, 2004

Armed Liberal on Gay Marriage

A.L. is definitely living up to his personna, but if he doesn't mind I'd like to challenge him a little on his latest post about same-sex marriage. He begins with a geological/evolutionary paradigm that isn't altogether unfamiliar:

Here's the image I have in my mind when I talk about it [meaning the same-sex marriage issue]; as a society and as people, our values are complex, and often on some level, self-contradictory. I don't see that as wrong, I just see it as human. At the highest, simplest, most public levels, the values tend to align. But deeper, it looks like the strata underneath California - more faults and temporarily stable dislocations than solid bedrock.

I have a somewhat different, but perhaps compatible, perspective. I have a sense of gravity about issues like this that derives from my social science training, so the fact that things seem copasetic on the surface doesn't necessarily convey to me a sense of order. I look at a cake, and wonder what sort of wreckage may be lurking under the frosting. Is it even edible? Concerning the same-sex marriage issue I think one has to consider the motivations, and I have a sense that some well-meaning people like Armed Liberal are cutting these folks a lot of slack. I don't think very many gays even want to get married. Certainly the motivation that seems to blind heteros to all reason, that of propagating their own genes, is completely lacking. Is this a good or bad thing? Shucks, how would I know? It could be good. It could be bad. But it's sure different, and that doesn't automatically imply an empirical wash.

To me it's a little like hanging a newly washed garment. Gravity tends to "iron out" the wrinkles. I'm not sure how much faith I have in that perspective when it comes to social institutions, however. What principle subs for gravity? Are we ignoring gravity here, meaning a few thousand years of history? Is there a subterranean principle that represents the collective intent of that history? Lets ignore "human fulfillment" for a second. Taking an immense shortcut (because I just don't want to cite all the sources) isn't this fundamentally about rule following behavior? Or, to use a Hayekian concept: just conduct?

I propose that the institution of marriage evolved to maximize the potential for just conduct. Now there's an inherent tension between just conduct and optimizing return. If there weren't, there'd be no need for authority. But the "family" provides the earliest incentives that we have for adherence to authority, by mixing authority with unconditional love (or some rough approximation thereof). The folks who compose our family are the only people on earth who are likely to love us even if they don't happen to like us. This is usually an extremely stable equilibrium upon which to construct a civilization. It buys us a lot of slack in the interface between human civilization and nature (human or otherwise). And this, in turn, rests on a sense of obligation that is not entirely rational, and could be under extreme stress, beneath the surface of things.

And that dynamic system changes over time in response to events, to changes in belief or behavior, to a kind of social evolution.

OK, not a "kind of " social evolution. Social evolution. Again, where is the locus of gravity? Or what is the zenith of aspiration? What gets things into alignment without excessive attention to detail? I'm willing to learn.

As a believer in punctuated equilibrium, I also see that as a metaphor for patterns in societies.

Which brings me to Gavin Newsome (who looks like he is going to rival Joe Alioto and Wille Brown as a Bay Area political figure) and his act of civil disobedience - because it really can't be characterized in any other way.

Well, actually it can. Some people characterize it as usurpation. Moreover, ascribing a motivation as lofty as the civil rights movement to a politician who may simply see this as a good opportunity to wrest himself clear of his greener rivals might be seeing a silk purse in a sow's ear. It might not, of course. I try to see silk purses whenever I can. What's the gravitas? Civil rights? Really? Forgive me, but I'm a bit cynical here. Civil Rights isn't about acceptance of someone elses whim, but about accomodation of the deepest and surest aspirations that humans have. NONE of these folks are motivated by a need or compulsion to propagate their genes, the central "theme" of marriage. They may, in fact, be able to mimic this sort of short term transcendence of local rationality for the sake of global rational calculation, but how real is it? I am sure that homosexual bonds are as romantic and genuine, and even as long lasting, as heterosexual bonds. But there's just something missing, isn't there?

Now, I don't want to be chauvinistic here. I'm not interested in buying legitimacy for my argument by claiming some sort of primacy for genetic inheritance. The desire to promote rule systems in social evolution can be just as compelling as the desire to perpetuate genetic patterns. It can be just as valid. So, in principle at least, there could be equal depth to the impulses of gay people for legitimate romantic union, if those impulses are instrumental to perpetuating systems of rules that are vital to them. That's social evolution. But is there something as compelling here as the rearing of a child, from cradle to adolescence, for the sake of the precision of their unconscious smile or the promise of some future genius or hero of sacrifice? Is there anything even comparable? Or is it just that we're simply embarrassed to say, without equivocation, "there isn't?"

Insert response here...

I'm really pleased that he's doing this. I think that this is going to be remembered along with the sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter. These are events that are among the first signs of real slippage on those faults as society aligns itself anew. That's how social change happens. A small event that would have been lost at another point in history, manages to set of a wider shift - because the underlying forces were in place to make society receptive to it.

What are the underlying forces that are comparable to the Civil Rights Movement? I am generally unaware of the condition of the earth under my feet until it starts to shake or belch smoke, so might it not be possible that this so-called "alignment" is merely inattention? African Americans are humans with a genetic and propagative impulse as vital as that of whites, or any other race (if there even is such a thing as "race"), and the justice of allowing that impulse to be expressed freely within the context of either traditional marriage or competition for career and employment seems undeniably compelling. That was the issue in ending the Jim Crow laws, more or less. But I can't see that the principle associated with same-sex marriage is anything other than a right to imitate those compelling impulses. This isn't to say that I necessarily oppose it. Many heterosexual couples marry, who remain barren. And couples stay married long after their children have left the nest. There are powerful reasons for marriage that have nothing to do with the "central theme." Companionship, personal fulfillment, health, longevity, a helpmate. But which of these could not be supported by a parallel institution such as civil union?

Isn't the primary motivation of a gay couple seeking marriage vows to essentially dramatize (let's forget the term "mimic") a commitment that comes from a primary source of motivation they don't, and can't, possess? Barren heterosexual couples contribute to the central theme of marriage by legitimating and serving as examples of fidelity. Their function is ancillary, but compatible if not directly supportive. There is some reason to think that homosexual couples might perform a similar role or function, but does acceptance of this at face value really rise to the level of just conduct displayed in the Civil Rights Movement?

There are a nexus of functions around which the institutional, legal, and cultural arrangements of marriage are clustered. These include:

1. Accommodation of a genetic compulsion to propagate, within the context of a coherent and orderly society. Children relate to an authority figure, and learn to love those they don't necessarily like. They also learn to like those that don't always love. Lately we have even discovered that marriage and family are instrumental in the development of intelligence. It isn't quantity, it's quality.
2. Accommodation of intimacy and the support for cooperation between gender opposites. This is no mean task. Each person in the pair has weaknesses and strengths that complement those of the partner and are directly related to gender.
3. Protection of the group from the vagaries of nature and the whims of the larger society.
4. Companionship and personal fulfillment.
5. The archetypal "miniature society" in which behaviors and cooperative strategies are first deployed, tested, and learned.

With regard to gay couples 3 and 4 have relevance almost universally. 1 and 5 have relevance only in some situations, where children are present in the family for some reason (adoption, divorce, insemination, infidelity). 2. is, at best, marginally relevant. But more to the point I think the cultural institution of marriage is probably not adequate to the challenges that homosexual couples may face. I'm no family expert but it seems to me that whatever inequalities may exist between homosexual partners, they are not a consequence of gender opposition. This, my intuition tells me, may prove to be the source of some of the most problematic unintended consequences of expanding the franchise of marriage to include gays. And interestingly their initial 'negative effect' will be on gays, rather than heteros.

I believe that the gay community needs to keep fighting for this, and when the victories come - like this one - cherish them and use them for fuel to keep going for the rest of the fight.

Explain the term "victory" here? What would be the visceral reaction if you saw a line of heterosexual couples circling the downtown neighborhood waiting to be "married" by virtue of a legally dubious and usurpative authority? Would you think "Isn't that wonderful?" Or would you recall the mass weddings of the Moonie cult? Would you leap to the conclusion that these folks were serious about marriage or about a political agenda? Is the latter really a good basis for a lifetime commitment? Are these really good candidates for expansion of the franchise?

I wish I knew, but I don't. And I still haven't uncovered that gravitas that would iron out the wrinkles I only dimly perceive at this early stage. How does any of this lend itself to the maintenance of just conduct and adherence to rules in the behavior of future generations? Because that's what marriage and family are about, really. Aren't they?

And, most important, to realize that while those who oppose this are wrong and that this is a struggle - that hating and demonizing them is not going to make victory come sooner, and in the end will make the battle less worth winning.

Well, since I'm not taking a position on the ultimate rectitude of this shift it's hard for me to see that I could be "wrong" in calling for a modicum of caution and (as a conservative gay friend of mine puts it) "a little less pushiness." I have been toying with the notion that the issue of same-sex "marriage" is analogous to the expansion of a franchise or brand name. It certainly isn't impossible that the expansion might be beneficial to the current "key holders." But those people have certain expectations related to the way the institution has evolved to meet their specific needs, and altering the nature of that institution without notice constitutes a kind of "breach of contract," doesn't it? Can we discuss this, rationally?

Moreover those who are petitioning to become members of the franchise are simply asserting that they'll maintain appropriate quality control, and that concerns about that and about other alterations that might dilute the brand are ill-founded and silly. Essentially what they're asking is for the heterosexual community to accept their unvarnished assurances that there will be no substantial negative consequences for society in general, and they propose this not only without any evidence, but, mockingly, without even the respect of acknowledging that concerns are anything more than irrational bigotry! This is not the way to petition for acceptance, is it?

What they propose is to appropriate or even confiscate the brand, by virtue of claiming a "right" as inalienable as that of humans not to be bought and sold by other humans, or the freedom of citizens to participate in the political process that determines their fate. Well, if this is true let's push away from the table and get to the task immediately! But if it isn't, then perhaps we ought to pause for a little reflection about precisely what it is we're doing and what the unintended consequence might be. At the very least, where is that gravitas that's supposed to be the Force Majeure that pulls things into alignment, in the long run?

Unlike Armed Liberal I think there's an enormous chasm to be crossed before we arrive at this promised land, and I'm not sure that same-sex marriage is even part of that promise. I don't have any position, yet, on whether same-sex marriage is good or bad for society. It may be extremely good, extremely bad, or indifferent. And I can see a rational case for all three positions. But it seems to me that rushing into a writ-large and irreversible social experiment with such enormous consequences and so little to go on is a little... immature?

Posted by Demosophist at 10:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 28, 2004

Sexual Preference (Updated)

from the Volokh Conspiracy (based right here at GMU Law School). There's extremely wide disparity between the percentages who admit to "attraction" to the same sex, and those who admit to actually having had same-sex partners. And even more strangely, it's the professed behavior that suggests much broader homosexuality and bisexuality than appears credible. The professed "practice" is, in fact, so broad that one would have to conclude (if you believe the numbers) that the notion that a same-sex attraction is a not a choice is something of a myth. Either that, or it represents a rather odd form of bragging. [Note: See the update below. I've apparently misread the second table. Oh well.] Anyway, here's a key graf:

So there do seem to be quite a few bisexuals out there, though how many depends on how you define bisexuality. This suggests that the law (for instance, law limiting marriage only to male-female marriage) might indeed affect people's choice to enter heterosexual relationships as opposed to homosexual ones, whether by direct incentives (e.g., financial benefits) or by affecting social mores. If we thought everyone was either firmly heterosexual or homosexual, such effects would be extremely unlikely. But if quite a few people can go either way, then they might be swayed by legal or social pressures.

Well OK, for those who demanded a direct effect on heterosexual marriage here it is, in spades. [Note: Not "in spades" perhaps, but it does suggest a significant direct impact, depending on how you interpret the numbers.]

[Update: As the aptly named commenter "UpNights" points out, I've misread the second table on Eugene's post. That's what comes of being too long in the saddle. The percentages in the boxes of the second table just demonstrate the portion of those who had same sex partners that also had opposite sex partners, so roughly speaking it isn't a departure from the first table. It still doesn't support the contention that having same sex partners is a choice, however. You could make an argument that there's an innate tendancy for same-sex attraction. And the high percentage of "bi" activity, especially in the bottom row, could be due to experimentation or social pressure.]

Eugene also suggests an interesting revision of the FMA.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:30 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

What the...?

CORRECTION: The wonderfully named bigot, Seaborn Roddenberry, was not a Republican. (Am I allowed to call those who wanted a constitutional ban on inter-racial marriages bigots? Or were they just concerned about the "sanctity" of civil marriage?) He was a Democrat. Most bigots from Georgia were Democrats back then. - 3:37:48 PM

Er well, normally I wouldn't expect to have to answer such a question from a, uhm, grownup. Ironize much?

Posted by Demosophist at 05:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Daily Dish on Arendt

QUOTE FOR THE DAY I: "The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which 'the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one's skin or color or race' are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs." - Hannah Arendt, Dissent, Winter 1959.

Well, I'm tempted to just let it lie there as a particle of humor that speaks for itself. Oh what the heck, I guess Ernst Heidegger interfered with her "rights," no?

I think Arendt is sharp and enlightening, and I'd say the same of Andrew. But they aren't always right, especially in an area that's so close to home. And again, if Andrew actually believes this he's not entirely forthcoming with us regarding the "federalism thing."

Posted by Demosophist at 04:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Marriage as a Brand Name (Updated)

The following is from Drezner's wonderful comment section:

(But first, an observation. Sullivan solicits an order of magnitude more cash than Drezner to support his blog, yet provides no comment section. Why is that?)

Now, for the comment, which includes some back and forth between James Miller and Andrew Sullivan:

Patrick: How in the world does a couple of gay guys or gals getting married demean my marriage to my wife? Seriously, does anyone have a rational response to this?

Simple and rational; if a little lenthy...it's a gross misuse of the label.

Consider the parallel brought up by James Miller some months ago. In making his case against Civil unions as a substitute for Homosexual 'marragies" Miller compares marriage and civil unions as brand names. Says he:

Brand name analysis proves that civil unions for gay couples can't fully substitute for marriage. If you started a fast-food restaurant, it would be easier to call your place McDonald's than to use some new unknown brand name. Sure, in time you could build up this new brand to become as locally well-respected as McDonald's name, but for the near future at least, you're better off going with the existing brand.

Sullivan picked up on that argument and responded:

Miller says the critical question is whether expanding marriage to include gays will "dilute" the brand. I think it will strengthen it by making it universal.

To which I respond:

Not so fast. Let's extend this hypothetical a bit.

Would MacDonalds respond with your thinking, Andrew, or would they file a damage suit? They would of course do the latter, pointing out that the people stealing the MacDonalds name, are trying to push their product as something it was not, and claim (not without some justification) that doing so caused the real MacDonalds chain damage, wouldn't they?

Posted by Bithead at February 25, 2004 01:55 PM

Yeah, yeah it's a crassly capitalistic analogy. But it reveals something interesting about the focus of gays on "marriage" as opposed to "civil unions." It says something about the value for gays. Not so obviously the "how much," but at least the "why." It is not a value that was created by gays for gays, but by heterosexuals for heterosexuals. And it has a character that is diluted once that defining characteristic is no longer valid. The issue is "how diluted," not "whether." And clearly there need not be any "profit motive" involved in establishing the brand originally for it to have value, or for that value to be attractive to exploitation by a group that had no hand in creating it.

The issue is not "whether" but "how much."

The logic, in case you missed it, is incandescently simple. The "negative effect" of same-sex marriage on heterosexual marriage is simply revealed by the different values that gays place on civil union versus marriage. The "negative effect" is the net sum of this difference.

Update: The following compromise suggested by OpinionJournal.com would, in effect, allow a buy-in to the franchise after demonstrating an appropriate level of quality control and market viability. (Dontcha just love market allusions?)

"Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require any state or the federal government to recognize any marriage except between a man and a woman."

Simple and direct. Massachusetts and California could institute same-sex marriage and the rest of us could sit back and watch the results unfold with no risk at all that the concept would necessarily spread, until there were some significant results. (At least two generations, or somewhere between 20 and 40 years of data, including panel studies to sort out the causation thing.) I could live with that. And I see no reason at all a group of "non-partisan" senators and congressmen couldn't propose it, win a required 2/3rds vote and have it ratified by 3/4ths of the states in pretty short order.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2004

The Mysterious and Elusive "Armed Liberal" Revealed

Well, sort of. Here's a picture I took recently of Armed Liberal at Dulles Airport. He's really much better looking than this. Unfortunately for him, in this picture he looks a little like me.

Armed Liberal

Posted by Demosophist at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Can't Let This Pass

Andrew says this:

...so the notion that four judges in Massachusetts can impose civil marriage for gays on an entire country is simply mistaken. Some argue that activist courts these days will over-rule these precedents. But with 38 states explicitly saying they won't recognize such marriages; with the Defense of Marriage Act backing that up; the likelihood is minimal.

To which, if I were Charles, I'd respond that there are currently no states that don't recognize the marriages performed in other states. And I'd ask Andrew if he knows of any civil rights that apply to Massachussetts residents that would exclude Oregonians. If he acknowledges that marriage isn't a civil right, then I think we're all set. If he doesn't acknowledge that, we have a problem.

The bottom line is that I think Andrew's position on this is internally inconsistent.

The Lawrence case will result in the DOMA being ruled unconstitutional (note that Sen. Kerry voted against DOMA because he thought it was unconstitutional). The FF&C allows states to refuse to recognize legal acts of other states on public policy grounds - but if the public policy is irrational and bigoted, as the Massachusetts Supreme Court and the Lawrence court have held laws upholding traditional views of sexual morality to be, then the public policy exception is invalid. Indeed, a number of gay rights groups have announced plans to seek the invalidation of the DOMA on just these grounds. (Posted by DBL on Dan Drezner's comment section
Posted by Demosophist at 09:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

To My Gay Friends

I want my gay friends to marry, if they want to. There is still a conservative case for gay marriage, proposing that there are benefits. Even if the effect of same-sex marriage were neutral on society... even if it were only slightly negative, I'd be for it. I'm not entirely clear why gays want to marry though, and suspect it's just part of that agenda of being accepted as "normal." I think of being gay is part of human normalcy, and committed relationships among gays is something that the straight world will ultimately have to incorporate. And it feels awful to have to say to a gay friend who wishes me happiness in wedded bliss that I don't wish the same for them. It stinks.

But there's more at stake here than that. I simply can't deny the vital role of the child-rearing family in society. As I said, even if the indirect effect of gay marriage is only slightly negative, we can adapt and compensate. What I fear is a significant and strong indirect effect.

Child-rearing families are in trouble, due in part to changes in society that are good. (The birth control pill, changes in the role of women in the workplace, etc.) But I can't deny that we have a problem in this area, and I have not yet seen any real attempt to adapt and compensate for those changes that have already created enormous social disruption. I don't know what the effect of same-sex marriage would be on these families.

In spite of the claim by some gays that there is no relationship between gay and straight marriage, there *is* a mechanism that could hurt families. It isn't a direct effect. Gays don't intervene in heterosexual marriage when they marry a same-sex partner, except in certain exotic circumstances that wouldn't be a problem in the aggregate. But indirect effects aren't necessarily small, and I'm about fed up with the social disruption caused by the dissolution of family. I don't want to do anything that adds to that burden, and I'm not going to apologize for having that concern.

If Andrew Sullivan or someone else can propose a method by which we can experiment with the introduction of gay marriage, to get better purchase on precisely what its indirect effects might be, then I'm for it. But I think we need to talk this through, as a society. I don't think imposing a resolution through the auspices of a state supreme court that also denies it's own citizens a right already guaranteed in the Constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) is the way to resolve this issue. I just don't.

I have proposed, long long ago, the introduction of a new system of marriage that involves different levels of commitment. Perhaps that's actually what is evolving here. One type of commitment confers certain legal advantages, but denies others, that accrue to marriage. It's advantage is that it's relatively easily dissolved. Indeed, it may even have an automatic expiration date. But another type of marriage, that is invoked either voluntarily, or the instant a child is produced, severely limits the options for dissolving the marriage. The point here is that we need some sort of system that recognizes and protects the advantages that children have if they are raised in a two-parent household. Failure to do that will almost certainly ensure the intervention of the state into the sanctity of marriage, and the relationship between parent and child. Because someone will have to correct the damage done to innocents by parents exercising their "freedoms."

I think we will almost certainly end up with some two-tiered version of marriage, and rather than water-down the whole thing perhaps we ought to concentrate on the details.

Posted by Demosophist at 08:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 26, 2004

So, What Should the Amendment Be?

Daniel Drezner has an amusing challenge about the same sex marriage debate. From the 203 comments (and counting) it would appear that the majority of people oppose gay marriage but support civil unions. According to Andrew and a number of others, the proposed amendment would also ban civil unions, so it's unlikely to even get out of the gate as is. Question:

What would an amendment banning same sex marriage, but allowing civil unions, look like? What are those unique aspects of marriage that would be excluded from civil unions? Divorce requirements? Child support obligations? Property claims. Standing in contests over custody? I just can't fathom it, and need help. What are the dimensions of this controversy, really?

Posted by Demosophist at 10:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sistani Backs Off

[Sistani] declared Thursday that he would allow a six-month delay in the nationwide elections that he had demanded this summer, giving the U.S. administration crucial leeway in its plan to formally end the U.S. occupation and transfer power to an Iraqi government by June 30.

But Sistani, who has emerged as a key power broker in Iraq, said he wanted the date of an election -- the end of 2004 -- enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution. (Hat tip: Citizen Smash)

That's a little like holding out to marry Elmer Fudd, or demanding a Zirconia engagement ring, but whatever. What it says is that we have significant leverage, and possibly a little respect. This is pretty good news. Better news would be catching a couple of big fish.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Passion?

Andrew has a "raw" review of The Passion of the Christ in which he describes it as "some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino:"

The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree. Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching that Gibson essentially omits.

I don't know if the suffering is exaggerated, but from what I've heard that may not be the case. But that isn't really the point. The point is that this is the focus of film, and the fact that it's all people talk about means that it's also apparently the focus of Christianity itself. Although I have not yet seen the movie, what strikes me about reactions to it, both pro and con, is that they're totally pre-occupied with the crucifixion, as though the Gospel is all about the fact that Jesus suffered more than anyone else. I simply have to regard this as an epic doctrinal failure, on the scale of believing in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And it's probably indicative of a rather unhealthy human fascination with death and cruelty.

But, as Andrew suggests, the suffering of Jesus was not any greater than the suffering of most of the thousands and thousands of people the Romans crucified, and the only reason anyone took note of this particular event at all is the Resurrection. I suppose that's something that can't be historically proved, and it would be difficult to turn to dramatic advantage, but unless the Resurrection is the central event in the drama you've really totally missed the point. And I mean totally missed it. You might as well go home and sacrifice the family cat. Hell, you might as well have kitty for dinner.

And I'll say it again, for emphasis. If Christians are in lock step with this doctrinal failure they're mesmerized into believing a perverted message, and it's about time someone yelped a little about it. Frankly, I am surprised. I would not have guessed that most people were this preoccupied with the crucifixion, as horrific as it was. If I thought this were really the central message of Christianity I'd seriously consider changing religions. This really amounts to a kind of very thinly disguised emotional blackmail, and the omission of the key event is so obvious and glaring that I have to assume it's some sort of blessing in disguise. It's as though I'm watching a crowd of people trampling one another to leave a burning building through a small side exit, when the main doors are all wide open, clear, and clearly visible. There's no reason to even consider that they're anything other than nuts. There's some sort of dark psychological effect at work, that's surely very fascinating but not even remotely convincing as a "testament." Indeed, it almost renders the drama a kind of joke. I can see the Seinfeld episode.

Dad and Mom, horrified: "You were making out during the movie!"

Jerry: "Well, yeah. We couldn't understand Aramaic and Latin, and there was this big-haired woman in front of us blocking our view of the subtitles, and we thought it was like a Felini film, and took advantage of the fact that everyone was watching the movie."

Why is this situation not obvious to more people? I mean, not even Andrew touches it? Instead, he emphasizes that Gibson doesn't have enough material about the life of Jesus. Well sure the walkabout was important, providing context and practical teachings as well as a few instructive miracles, but both His life and His death were merely preludes to the main event. And it's apparently an event that so embarrasses most Christians that they can barely be tempted to bring it up. Absent that third stage following life and death no one would have heard of Jesus, let alone called him "Christ." At most, Christianity would have become a minor cult, like the Rastas or Wicka.

I've always been somewhat uncomfortable about not paying more heed to the fundamentalist Christian doctrine that The Passion was a kind of souped-up blood sacrifice. After all, it's obviously the most widespread Christian doctrine of them all. But this movie, and particularly the reaction to it, has released me from that concern. it doesn't, well, add up.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:34 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

What's Goin' On?

I'm not sure I undestand what's going on with Andrew Sullivan, and the parade of Bush bashing on the Daily Dish over the last several days. A few weeks ago his support of Bush was based on the assessment that something rather critical was happening in the Middle East, and the tack taken by the wishful-thinking Democrats was likely to get us into a WWIV situation, or worse. Has this changed because the President now endorses a movement to define marriage according to a traditional formula?

Let's not quibble about the precious role that the child-rearing family plays in maintaining civilization. Let's assume that the President is just wrong-headed about it, that we have incontrovertable evidence that scrapping the religious character of marriage and morphing it into a civil institution won't have any negative effects on the coherence of heterosexual families. Hell, maybe it'll even help. Does the President's wrong-headedness on this traditional issue mean that WWIV is less likely under a Kerry Presidency than it was a few weeks ago? Or is it just that a little holocaust here and there is a small price to pay for participation in an institution that ought to become mostly civil anyway?

And what's all the hoopla about Gibson's The Passion of the Christ? Heck, the Romans crucified hundreds of thousands of people and tens of thousands of Jews, and one more Jew wouldn't have made the slightest difference to anyone had they not believed that He managed to somehow walk out of the tomb before the heartburn from the Last Supper had worn off. This Gibson movie missed the whole point. The Crucifixion of Christ makes dramatic cinema sense only because we know He's the star of the show. And just how do we know that? Were it not for the big unexpected plot twist of the empty burial chamber and some spooky goings-on, all that drama invested in the torture and death would have been just another nameless event in a long drawn-out, and mostly forgotten, holocaust.

Get a grip folks. You want a perfect society? Try Saudi Arabia.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:16 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 24, 2004

A Line Is Drawn

I guess now that the President has come out in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage the issue will gain significant purchase in the upcoming election. That is, it'll be an important issue unless the Democratic candidate also supports the amendment. I have gone back and forth on this, as some may have noticed, but the fish in the milk seems to be the attitude adopted by social liberals that marriage is an entitlement. It is not.

Marriage may perform a number of functions, but its primary function is to stabilize heterosexual relationships during critical child rearing years. (Note: this is significantly different from "procreation.") Marriage obviously has value for other people, for couples who don't have children and for the elderly, but those are not only ancillary, they also help support the institution's primary role. They help to set the standard of "stability." I was willing to allow experiments in gay marriage in order to determine if that new ancillary role might end up supporting the primary role, but there simply doesn't appear to be a way to roll things back should the experiment fail, and there may not even be a way to keep the experiment from becoming a universal expectation.

Andrew Sullivan recently posted the following on a related topic:

Our society is now astonishingly diverse in terms of different kinds of families. From two-income childless yuppies to arranged Muslim marriages to lesbians with kids to seniors on their second marriage to suburban single dads and more traditional nuclear families: can we feel a bond to each of these arrangements as if they were our own? My own view is that radical cultural diversity can only be managed in the long run by ratcheting back what the government can do, by limiting its moral authority, by restricting its distributive take. (So marriage becomes less explicitly religious as a social institution and more explicitly civil. At least that's the limited government argument of "Virtually Normal.") But we are currently expanding government and demanding a more coherent "politics of meaning," even while cultural and moral diversity explodes. Something has gotta give.

Which raises a pertinent question. If it's OK to make marriage more civil, what's wrong with the concept of civil union in the first place? I mean, what "special cachet" does marriage have that is not directly conferred by an intense and largely religious tradition? And why would it be wise to water that down, making it more civil in nature? It is already sectarian, which is the level and type of "diversity" that seems appropriate to the American Ideology, or Americanism.

The bond that Americans feel for one another is not mystical, nor is it based on a common ethnicity, or even a common "kind of family" as Andrew suggests. It can tolerate a pretty broad diversity of family types and traditions because it's based on a common ideology that rests on Lockean classical liberalism and religious sectarianism. The latter encompasses and defines the social role of marriage, and one would be hard pressed to find a coherent and prominent religious tradition anywhere on the planet that promotes marriage between gays. The bonds that collectively define us as a nation are enormously elastic, but they have their limits... and we may have found one.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 23, 2004

Nader's Strategy

The current conventional wisdom coming from the media pundits about the Nader candidacy is that he must be expressing some degree of vanity that blinds him to the consequences of his Presidential candidacy. What this punditry misses is the historical role of alternative political movements in the US.

The rule of thumb is that an alternative political movement or third party can influence the position of the major party that's its closest ideological neighbor only by playing a spoiler role that costs the major a win in two successive election cycles. What Nader is doing is entirely rational from the perspective of a minor political movement that seeks to have significant influence on the political process. Of course he has little chance of winning an election, or even gaining a significant number of votes. What he can do is influence the platform of the Democrats in 2008 and beyond. This is good news for Republicans, and bad news for the Democrats, at least in the short term. Ultimately, however, he will have to convince a significant number of voters in some key states to vote for him in spite of the fact that by doing so they will probably deprive the Democrats of victory. Are people willing to be that strategic in their voting behavior? The logic of "winner takes all" that governs a two-party system like ours suggests that this is, at best, an uphill fight.

In the long term, if the policies pursued by the Naderites were, in fact, really progressive and appropriate it would all be to the benefit of the electorate and the political system. But in this case I don't think there's anything particularly new or refreshing about the Nader positions (except, possibly, for primary and secondary education), so it's something of a wasted effort. If the Democrats moved in the direction of some of these auld tyred policy prescriptions in 2008 they'd probably be less electable than they are now. It's not that we don't need change. It's that we've already been down this road.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 22, 2004

The Role of the Queer Eye

Andrew Sullivan gave an eloquent defense of gay marriage today on Meet the Press, and I have to say that if I thought most gays felt as sincerely about the issue as Andrew I would not feel the ambiguity that I now do. If I believe that Newsom is shooting the movement for gay marriage in the foot by creating a spectacle that looks suspiciously like a mardi gras, at least to those of us on the outside, Andrew sees something quite different:

Suddenly, it's not the gay pride parades and mardi gras festivals that illustrate gay lives. Suddenly, it's love and patience and kids and umbrellas and bouquets and tuxedoes and all the other bric-a-brac of living. How hard is it to tolerate that?

Again, if Andrew is right, and a cadre of gay men respect and value marriage as an institution in ways that many heterosexuals have not done for a generation, then a queer eye may have something really profound to teach the straight guy. That's what Andrew sees, and it strikes me as the same kind of bold vision that informs his views about the neo-Wilsonian effort to rescue the Middle East from itself.

But, like the Middle East, it seems wise to take things one step at a time. At worst we'll learn as we go.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 20, 2004

Iranian Elections

Amidst rumors that many Iranian websites have been shut down The Eyeranian has a post about the elections today. Apparently Hoder was supposed to stay up all night and monitor and update Iranfilter, but I can't get either to come up. According to an update:

There were no major incidents. The voter turn-out has been light with estimates ranging from 15 to 30 percent of eligible voters participating.

He also says that there have been reports of "cheating." I'm shocked.

Lady Sun has a post today about some reformist newspapers that were shut down.

Radio Farga has a lot of stuff, if you read Farsi.

What comes after a voter boycott, I wonder?

Update: I'm now getting Iranfilter and Hossein Derakhshan (Hoder) to load, but they're veeeeerrrryyy sluggish. It may just be that they're getting a lot more than their normal traffic.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More on Marriage

I started to post a reply to comments by Dan and Ben below, but it grew larger than a mere comment. Dan will get me going, with this:

However, and I suspect that my own biases are coming into play here, both in this case and the earlier one involving Judge Moore, both men are basically shooting their respective causes in the foot through these types of antics.

Absolutely! It's as though he's making an attempt to turn marriage into Mardi Gras, or something.

I can't imagine anything that ought to raise conservative concerns more, even those conservatives who are in favor of gay marriage. About the last thing they want is for marriage to buy into the whole "personal fulfillment" paradigm any more than it already has. Marriage fulfills a vital role in society, binding parents during critical years of child rearing. David J. Armor has even demonstrated that the home environment provided by stable couples is critical to the development of IQ! Others, like James Q. Wilson and Frank Fukuyama have argued that the dissolution of the family has precipitated the disruption of society.

The conviction within the gay community in S.F. seems to be that what conservatives are worried about is that gay marriages will work out fine, and that gays will have lives as happy and productive as those of straight couples. But if you ask religious conservatives why they're opposed to gay marriage they'll tell you that it's because they're afraid it will undermine or weaken an institution that's already in deep trouble. (Or some version of that, couched in religious terms.) And I personally see no reason to disbelieve them. The very idea that they're really just intent on selfishly withholding the "goodies" of happy personal fulfillment strikes me as an excellent example of what concerns conservatives, and what ought to concern all of us. The personal fulfillment paradigm is part of the set of social value changes that threatens marriage in the first place. The implication of such an ethic is that as soon as a marriage becomes "unfulfilling," it's ready for the chopping block. The institution then just becomes an impediment, and the "good" becomes divorce.

So if the message that gays are sending is that they feel they're being denied self-fulfillment, and this is the primary reason they want to "indulge" in marriage, I think the religious conservatives may have a point. There are, however, other conservatives who think that gay marriage will stabilize gay relationships and that this will have a salutary effect on marriage and on the society. And that, too, could happen. But lets be clear, although marriage may become an important institution for gays, that's ancillary.

I tend to think that, on average, gay men won't stay married any longer than heterosexuals, and probably less. Gay women will probably stay married for eons (which reminds me of an old joke about what a lesbian drives to her second date: a moving van). But that doesn't really help the social situation, because that whole mess that Fukuyama and Wilson are talking about has mainly to do with the role and behavior of heterosexual men (and to a lesser extent the behavior of a very small cadre of self-indulgent, well-heeled, women). What concerns me is that once the experiment begins, it can't be halted or reversed even if it proves disastrous, because the values that promoted it in the first place are fundamentally self-indulgent, and have little to do with marriage as a basic social institution.

Well, that's what I fear. But I don't fear it enough to oppose allowing a social experiment to proceed. At least, not yet...

Posted by Demosophist at 12:59 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 17, 2004

Weighing in on Gay Marriage

OK, I guess it's about time I weighed in on this issue, although I don't really have a passionate position. To provide a crutch I'll comment on a post by Andrew Sullivan, because it offers a good substrate for a reasoned response:

The marriages will continue. Most people seem to agree with me that the gay couples getting married in San Francisco are engaged in a classic example of civil disobedience.

Not everyone. Glenn Reynolds has observed that the action more closely resembles usurpation than civil disobedience.

Key graf:

Newsom would deny others the right to violate a law he believes in, but feels free to violate the law himself when he chooses, even though his sole claim to legitimacy as a government official comes from the law.

It's not civil disobedience when it's done by someone who controls the machinery of government -- it's usurpation, even when it's in a cause I agree with.

Again, from Andrew:

They do not know the legal validity of their marriages, and San Francisco has advised them as such. The marriages are almost certainly legally unenforceable. They are doing this primarily to demonstrate their desire for marriage and the justice of their cause. It's the symbolism they're after; and the symbolism is having a huge impact (look at the hysteria it is provoking on the right).

On the other hand... the "party atmosphere" that seems so consistent with the San Francisco elan tends to reinforce the perception that expanding the franchise for marriage undermines the institution. My own view is that this is an open question, and San Francisco makes a pretty lousy test case. I'm willing to give it a try, to let federalism tell us what the consequences really are, but the "display" in San Francisco doesn't really reinforce the view that an expanded franchise for marriage will strengthen the institution. Quite the contrary.

I think there would be no more perfect move than to jail some of these couples for daring to get married. It would be a spectacle of civil disobedience that would, I think, help their cause even further. Bring on the fire-hoses and police dogs! Newsom is in a different position as a public official, and that's a distinction I don't mean to gloss over. But in his case, he is arguing that he is not violating his oath by giving marriage licenses to gay couples, since, in his view, the bar on such marriages, as he understands it, violates the California state constitution. And it is the constitution that he has sworn to uphold as mayor.

I don't think anyone is foolish enough to jail these protestors. The mere concept strikes me as something of a fantasy. As for the Constitutional stance, it's a valid issue, I guess. But it just doesn't pass the scratch test for civil disobedience.

Money quote from the NYT:

City and county officials acknowledge that the state's family law forbids same-sex marriage, but they argue that the state's Constitution protects equal rights and takes precedence. Legal experts said the new licenses held only symbolic value because California law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. City officials advised the couples to seek legal advice about their status.

Now, I'm not a constitutional lawyer, let alone an expert on California's state constitution, so I don't know how valid Newsom's argument is. But if he is found in violation of his oath of office, then I see no reason why he shouldn't be prosecuted, or impeached or face any other sanction for behaving illegally. And court hearings and challenges will continue to determine this. He should not be above the law, just as Judge Moore wasn't. But Newsom is also entitled to act according to his conscience and to his own reading of the state constitution's guarantees of equal protection, just as Moore was. If he is found guilty of violating his oath of office, he should face the consequences. Somehow I think one of them might be re-election in a landslide.

There's a certain quaint character to politics, isn't there? It's part of the reason I love it. It's a little like engineering in the sense that sometimes things work when there's no rhyme or reason for believing that they would. There is something about being human that transcends rationality, without trashing it. It's a very hopeful message.

Posted by Demosophist at 09:48 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 16, 2004

Strategic and Doctrinaire Pacifism

I've decided to overcome the limitations of the comments section by posting a response to Ed's, Ben's and Ironbear's comments on The Pacifist's Choice here. I think Donald Sensing makes a good case that Christ wasn't a pacifist, in the sense that he excluded the possibility of legitimate violence. But, as I said on these two HighRoads threads (here and here), I think there's a distinct difference between doctrinaire pacifists and "strategic pacifists." I think Christ and the early Christians were clearly the latter and not the former.

When a movement for religious or political freedom is confronted with an overwhelming and dominant force the best option may be to alter the mental, spiritual and/or political state of the aggressor. This is definitely a long term, even an epochal, strategy, and there's also no doubt that in the case of Christianity it worked. It worked even through Rome was a brutal tyranny. However I am not so sanguine about our options with respect to modern totalitarianism, which is an order of magnitude more corrosive than mere tyranny. As Hannah Arendt observes:

Total terror is so easily mistaken for a symptom of tyrannical government because totalitarian government in its initial stages must behave like a tyranny and raze the boundaries of man-made law. But total terror leaves no arbitrary lawlessness behind it and does not rage for the sake of some arbitrary will or for the sake of despotic power of one man against all, least of all for the sake of a war of all against all. It substitutes for the boundaries and channels of communication between individual men a band of iron which holds them so tightly together that it is as though their plurality had disappeared into One Man of gigantic dimensions. To abolish the fences of laws between men--as tyranny does--means to take away man's liberties and destroy freedom as a living political reality; for the space between men as it is hedged in by laws, is the living space of freedom. Total terror uses this old instrument of tyranny but destroys at the same time also the lawless, fenceless wilderness of fear and suspicion which tyranny leaves behind. This desert [tyranny], to be sure, is no longer a living space of freedom, but it still provides some room for the fear-guided movements and suspicion-ridden actions of its inhabitants.

By pressing men against each other, total terror destroys the space between them; compared to the condition within its iron band, even the desert of tyranny, insofar as it is still some kind of space, appears like a guarantee of freedom. Totalitarian government does not just curtail liberties or abolish essential freedoms; nor does it, at least to our limited knowledge, succeed in eradicating the love for freedom from the hearts of man. It destroys the one essential prerequisite of all freedom which is simply the capacity of motion which cannot exist without space. (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism)


In the absence of an external oppositional rival I'm not at all sure that it would be possible to oppose totalitarianism effectively, so from a strategic standpoint our first options have to involve the maintenance of an oppositional alternative. We have to prevent totalitarianism from becoming pervasive, which requires the recognition that all totalitarian movements seek universal control. Given the fact that the enemy is not tyranny but something far worse, and given the critical fact that we still have significant space outside of totalitarianism from which to maneuver against it, I simply can't see any role within the free societies for pacifism, doctrinaire or strategic. And in this sense I agree with the assertion that pacifism is morally indefensible. This is also the position taken by Reinhold Neibuhr.

But there certainly is a role for civil disobedience, a form of strategic pacifism, within a totalitarian state, if it's accompanied by a threat of force from without (Sakharov, for instance, was focused on changing the political conditions within the Soviet Union in the context of the Cold War). But even this strategic pacifism was a child of necessity, created by the dire consequences of the MAD stalemate. For twelve winters after the allied victory in Europe the Latvian Resistance waited in the freezing Baltic forests for a U.S. invasion that never came. Had it come, hundreds of millions would have been saved from enslavement, torture and death under Stalinism. This was the legacy of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the traitors whom wishful-thinking documentarians and dramatizers (including HBO and the BBC) have insisted on casting in a sympathetic light.

And I would go even farther, to say that the absence of a tradition of strategic pacifism within the Islamic world has crippled it, making it more rather than less vulnerable to totalitarian movements and regimes. Can there really be much doubt that had the Palestinians chosen civil disobedience rather than suicide terrorism as their strategy they'd have had a Palestinian state long ago? There is a fundamental weakness to the position that excludes non-violence as an effective strategy, because in a game theoretical sense the absence of a non-violent strategy limits options to the "dominant strategy" in the game theory matrix. In more conventional terms it leads to an "arms race" in which arms parity results in increasingly violent encounters, and ultimately in mutually assured destruction. And the best outcome of that situation is stalemate and a long drawn out "cold" war. Let's not even discuss the worst outcome.

And this is precisely why it would have been unwise to leave Saddam in power much longer, and why it's unwise to contemplate allowing Iran to continue developing a stealthy WMD program. Non-violence within Iran actually increases the overall options available to us, and plays a critical role in our strategies. But any commitment to non-violence on our part is not merely poor strategy, it's immoral... because it removes from the Iranian reformers any degree of protection they might have from their own internal totalitarian-trending regime. And once that regime acquires weapons-parity (not necessarily equality) the timeline for reform goes from years to decades and centuries.

It's easy to see that pacifism or non-violence on the level of states can play a role, but I don't see quite how strategic pacifism could play a similar role in individual crime situations, during a violent confrontation. The role of strategic pacifism seems to be limited to factions within the aggressor's sphere of direct volitional control. If we attempt to draw analogies from the behavior of groups, it's difficult to see which part of the aggressor could effect a change in attitude by adopting a strategy of nonviolence. Could his arm or his nose affect a change in his decision to commit violence? In what sense is the victim of an assault a component of the assailant's volition?

So we arrive at a kind of scalar where on one end of the scale the volition of individuals has "disappeared into One Man of gigantic dimensions" (or is, in fact, one man) and on the other where the volition of the group is actually a function of the freely expressed volition of individuals. The more things approach the first condition the longer or more epochal the strategy of nonviolence must become, and the less relevance nonviolence has to the immediate circumstances. And it would be rather mad to focus one's strategy on the "community of criminals" in the long term, when there is no such thing. With regard to individual crimes that are not part of a larger movement taking an epochal perspective toward the intent to commit homicide or battery makes no sense whatsoever. And even if it could make sense as a strategy employed against organized crime, where there is such a thing as a "community of criminals," that would only be the case if the alternatives were even more costly. Deliberately disarming, so that there can be no alternative, is equally nonsensical. It may make sense from an economical point of view, where the expense of being armed is high and the odds of a violent encounter are low. But it doesn't make moral sense.

And it likewise makes no moral sense to support disarming a society involuntarily, not so much because weapons parity with the state is required to preserve liberty, but because imposing citizen disarmament encourages an unrealistic or fantasy-laden relationship between the individual and the state. It moves the state in the direction of "One Man of gigantic dimensions:" a protector of perfect wisdom, knowledge and ability.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:53 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 12, 2004

Response to Regnum Crucis on Election 2004

This is a partial response to Dan Darling's post on the 2004 election, which was a response to my post Sliding Down the Polls. We seem to be relegated to using our blogs to carry on the dialogue because of limitations of our comment facilities. As a prelude to my response, I think Dan and I are focusing on somewhat different mechanisms that may interactively reinforce one another.

My general comment about the Dean phenomenon is that I don't think Dan's reasoning excludes mine. He has chosen to focus on some tactics that have been used to bring down Dean, and I've focused on a fundamental attitude that made the tactics potent, or inspired them in the first place. Dean's Achilles Heel is that he was connected to a "recessive trait" in American politics (the literary, counter-enlightenment-transcendentalist-influenced romanticists), without the slightest idea about how to deal with the "dominant trait" (Lockean "Americanism" as identified by Tocqueville, Lipset, Ladd, etc.). Dean is out of touch with the deep currents of self-identity in the US public, which is probably the price for being hyper-sensitive the inherently marginal opposition. It is a typical error among left-leaning US politicians to translate the dominance of counter-enlightenment ideology in most of Western Europe into a potential for an effective political movement here. They mistakenly see our Lockean commitments as surmountable, without realizing that if they were surmountable the entire fabric of the nation would probably unravel.

I have somewhat the same comment about your observations regarding the decline in Bush's poll numbers with the caveat that he is somewhat more attuned to Americanism, so is therefore a little more immune to violations of our defining ideology. He's not completely immune, however, and to the extent that some of his policy prescriptions (the deficit mainly) have alienated part of his base he can be injured. He's also theoretically vulnerable to a charge of elitism, which runs counter to Americanism, but since he has no viable opponents who can credibly make the charge, that flank is covered. The immigration issue really cuts both ways, but since Nativism really isn't part of the American Ideology; even though it's a recurring theme in US politics (but has never won an election for anyone) I don't think his policy position is inherently dangerous to his election strategy.

I take your point about some of my brief descriptions of relevant memes, particularly the Iraq/Al Qaeda connection regarding 9/11. The issue is really "ecological" anyway, and I think we agree on that.

The problem is that the cumulative effect of these memes is only going to be on the people who were inclined to believe them to begin with. Most conservatives are not going to, if for no other reason than that the identities of the most of the people making them. As for liberals, a sizeable majority of them (or at least the radicalized base) was ultimately not going to back any move Bush made against Iraq for the simple fact that he was the one making such moves.

Well sure, the ends of the spectrum are set, but the middle is wishy-washy (and I just had a sparkling revelation about where that term comes from). Right after 9/11 Bill Bennett said that the "moral clarity" of the moment would fade, and that American resolve would be tested. I guess I'll have to scrounge around for a poll with appropriate crosstabs to support my theory that the memes are having a cumulative effect on some of the folks in the middle. But I think the data would probably bear that out.

I think we agree that the Bush team is playing a little "rope-a-dope," and it looks like they have something on the end of the line. But I also don't think they're aware of the effect of unanswered or inadequately answered charges. There's a fairly plausible theory about cognitive processes in voting behavior which holds that people initially form their opinions based on facts and logic, but once formed they "throw away" memories of the logic and facts that led them to the conclusion. Once that happens it may take a huge effort to get them to change opinions, because they no longer recall how the opinions were formed. They're basically conserving resources. And there's a lot of research to support the contention that this cognitive process is quite real.

My theory is that in the heat of a campaign you have 24 to 48 hours to neutralize the effects of disinformation. After that point has passed, the effort is futile and your best bet is to distract attention. The failure to respond to those human cognitive limitations is mostly what brought John McCain down in South Carolina. He simply waited too long to respond to a series of false charges by Bush during the televised debates and in some "unsanctioned" mailers. And, of course, McCain wasn't savvy enough to keep from alienating religious conservatives who were clinging to him with their fingernails.

To briefly summarize, I think we're focusing on somewhat different mechanisms which take place at different operational levels, and they probably interactively reinforce one another. As a general proposition I'd say that Bush has greater immunity from violations of Americanism than his opponents. The Democrats can theoretically take advantage of his vulnerabilities, but because of their own obtuse biases they're unlikely to even perceive the opportunity.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An Interesting Take on Iraq

Donald Sensing has a number of posts about the current situation in Iraq after the recent bombings, and about the Zarqawi letter (which admits that al Qaeda is stymied), all of which seem to indicate that the "insurgency" in Iraq is having results approximately the opposite of those the insurgents hoped. The post on the Zarqawi letter observes:

Al Qaeda's leadership, beginning at the top with Osama bin Laden, was convinced that the United States did not have the will to fight. In an interview with bin Laden, conducted by Jamal Isma'il in Afghanistan and broadcast on Middle East television, it is clear that bin Laden's (and hence, all al Qaeda's) operations concept is based on a delusion that he has explained many times: when hurt, the United States always cuts and runs.
We think that the United States is very much weaker than Russia. Based on the reports we received from our brothers who participated in jihad in Somalia, we learned that they saw the weakness, frailty, and cowardice of US troops. Only 80 US troops were killed. Nonetheless, they fled in the heart of darkness, frustrated, after they had caused great commotion about the new world order.
But they have since been stymied by the US, and so have adopted a different strategy. As Sensing observes:
After tacitly admitting that al Qaeda cannot defeat America militarily in Iraq, Zarqawi writes that al Qaeda must turn to terrorism against the Iraqis in order to destabilize the country so much that its return to sovereignty this summer cannot happen effectively.
"So the solution, and only God knows, is that we need to bring the Shia into the battle," the writer of the document said. "It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis who are fearful of destruction and death at the hands" of Shiites. ...

"You noble brothers, leaders of the jihad [meaning other al Qaeda leaders - DS], we do not consider ourselves people who compete against you, nor would we ever aim to achieve glory for ourselves like you did," the writer says. "So if you agree with it, and are convinced of the idea of killing the perverse sects, we stand ready as an army for you to work under your guidance and yield to your command" [emphasis added].

But the Iraqis aren't going to cut and run, either. They increasingly regard the real foreign threat not as the Americans, but the al Qaeda terrorists. Iraqis are impressed with Americans, and are beginning to have "common cause" with America's War on Terror. They have acquired a feel for the stakes, and the nature of the enemy. As one Iraqi puts it:

I’ve always told my friends soon after the war, when most of the attacks were aimed at the American soldiers and the infra structure- they were hardly trying to rebuild with no much help from Iraqis at those times- that I was pretty sure it will be the Americans who will win this struggle. This was not based only on the fact that their case is just, nor their superior technology and resources, but also to another factor that in my opinion plays no less role than the above: they were determined, brave and patient unlike their enemies. They were moving slowly sometimes, taking causalities most of the time, but never hide in their camps or stop patrolling in dangerous areas and very rarely responded irrationally to terrorists’ attacks. I was not the only one who looked impressed and astonished to see those soldiers patrol on foot on the most dangerous areas in Baghdad, where attacks on Americans seemed to be a daily routine, and moreover there was not the slightest sign of fear, anxiety or hostility on their faces, still saluting people smiling to children, as if they are walking in their own land. Now at least one of the major 3 powers, that were a constant threat to their lives, no longer poses such a significant threat and the final outcome bears no doubt in my mind.

So the bottom line is that al Qaeda began with a mistaken opinion that the US was weak, and would cave in as soon as it suffered a few casualties, and they now have a similar opinion of Iraqis. These guys never learn. Well, they wouldn't would they?

Posted by Demosophist at 01:09 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 11, 2004

Sliding Down the Polls

Both Dean and President Bush have declining poll numbers, and the explanations offered for both situations may have little substance. For the Deaniacs to imply that anyone other than Dean himself is responsible for the Dean implosion suggests the same kind of "out of touch" attitude that caused Dean to implode in the first place. He was never electable, and Bush never feared him. Bush doesn't fear Kerry either, or Edwards (much). It's really pretty easy to run against Democrats who have no better strategy than to propose New Deal Era programs dressed in New Era slogans. The real danger for Bush is the complacency that comes with that observation.

I don't know what the Dems are going to do, frankly. My thinking is still that the only viable opposition to a "conservative" Republican Party is a "progressive" Republican Party. I almost see the role of the Democrats as analogous to the classical role of third parties, attempting to influence one of the main factions in order to change their position. The Democratic Party is slowly sinking into the sunset.

And the notion that it's all related to the extensive coverage of "the scream" is yet another paranoid delusion. I didn't care about the scream, frankly. I sure don't think it's what kyboshed the Dean campaign. The fact that the campaign seems willing to blame anyone but Dean himself (and I don't mean just for "the scream" either) tells me, and also many other voters, that the guy just isn't very responsible. And believe me, I've worked for a lot of politicians in that same boat. Being "the candidate" does something perverse to your objectivity, and an extraordinary person is required to overcome that syndrome. Dean didn't cut it. Simple as that

However, the slide in Bush's popularity also needs explaining, and I don't think it's a matter of the voters "waking up to the truth." I submit that the press orientation combined with a certain Republican naiveté', has helped sew the seeds of a number of memes that have had a cumulative effect on Bush poll numbers. Off the top of my head the main ones are:

1. The logic that if there was no al Qaeda link, Saddam's Iraq didn't contribute significantly to the terrorist threat. (Only extraordinary conceit holds that the "neighborhood" Saddam helped to perpetuate was not making a huge contribution to maintaining the swamp's terrorist production potential.) This amounts to the failure to take the ecology of the situation seriously.

2. The assumption that it's a settled issue that there was no Iraq/Qaeda link, especially in the intelligence community. It is far from settled, and there's lots of evidence the link goes all the way back to the early 1990s, and may even include some collaboration on 9-11. At least the Czechs and a large contingent in the CIA think that.

3. There was only one reason to invade, put forth by the Bush Administration: WMD. (And together with this, the notion that "programs" weren't nearly as great a threat as the actual weapons stocks themselves.)

4. The notion that Bush Administration rested their case on the concept of "imminent threat," together with the generally unsubstantiated impression that "Bush lied." The press never really gets "on all fours" with these ongoing misinterpretations.

5. The idea that the intelligence services of both the US and other western nations doubted that Saddam had WMD stocks.

6. The second guessing involved in the failure to recognize that no one ever expressed a coherent theory explaining the actual behavior of the Ba'athist totalitarian system, other than that he had WMD. Specifically no one even considered the possibility that the Hussein regime was so inept that Saddam could have thought they had a WMD system that they didn't actually have. But there's some precedent for that situation. The "peace movement" never even considered it a possibility. (See Hitler's WMDs).

7. The notion that we're suffering big casualties in Iraq, and that the insurgent campaign is growing and becoming more successful. Both are patently false, but fueled by a certain laziness in the media.

Any one of these memes would have minimal impact on the Bush campaign, but the cumulative effect can be quite damaging. It's important to note that if these beliefs are responsible for the decline in Bush's popularity his lower numbers are fueled by a false and self destructive "second guessing" of the War on Terror. This isn't a good thing, unless you really despise the US.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Future of the World

The Future of the Moslem World, a six part guest feature of Winds of Change, by Tarek Heggy:

1. The Big Change in Islamic Societies
2. Muslims & The Clash of Civilizations
3. The Mentality of Violence... and the Games Nations Play!
4. A Movement Bred in the Isolation of the Desert
5. The Fall of the Oppressors and the Emergence of the Sword
6. The Crisis Facing Non-Wahabbi Islam

This is an important, perhaps even a critical, contribution to our understanding. But...

I fear that the primary cause of this ["Humanity’s failure to support and reinforce the gentle, non-militant brand of Islam"] is the ‘infantile culture’ of the world’s foremost superpower. The United States, despite its great achievements in tens of fields suffers from what I call in my lectures the “cultural infantilism of American policies”.

It would certainly help if the US became more sensitive to the cultural wealth of the people who inhabit this planet with us, but it might be even more useful for Tarek to consider that a Michael Moore-inspired-stereotype of the US isn't the best place to start if he wants to understand the problem from this end. The fact is that the US turned a new cultural leaf in the 18th Century, the understanding of which in the 21st Century might very well help a "gentler Islam" tame its internal strife. The very notion that the US is "cultureless" betrays a characteristic disinterest in the West that has as much to do with the totalitarian drift of Islam as any misunderstanding of Islam by itself, or by the West.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 09, 2004

Russert Interview

Well, I suppose I should weigh in on the Russert interview, since everyone else is. I've been somewhat skeptical of Bush's commitment to the nation-building effort in Iraq, but I thought what the President said in the interview resolved some, or even most, of my concerns. I do not agree with Andrew that:

During the part of the interview when Bush could have strongly supported his nation-building in Iraq, and linked it to tackling the deeper problems that gave us 9/11, he was defensive and almost apologetic.

The point is that it is is intimately linked to 9/11 in precisely the way the President indicated. That is, to create a secure America we need to secure the future of Democracy in the Middle East, and he hit this point several times from several different angles. If this issue isn't clear to the reader yet, I suggest he or she take a gander at this recent post from Armed Liberal. Furthermore, I think Bush did an excellent job of controlling the interview, and am amaized that some (like Peggy Noonan) thought he did poorly. I think the President was really at his best this time, tired or not.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 07, 2004

Is Intelligence Political?

Blixa made the following comment in a post about "Cherry Picking":

Nobody seems to be complaining that, say, Barbara Lee "cherry-picked" only anti-Iraq-war information in her speeches. I'm certainly not. The whole criticism here almost qualifies as Nit-Picking. Sorry, but a decision to go to war is not a scientific one, it's a political one.

I tried to respond in Blixa's comment section, but my response was too long for the Blogger software. So I decided to post my response here.

I agree that going to war is a political decision, although it might also be a strategic calculation. But in this case we're not really talking about going to war. We're talking about the intelligence upon which the decision is made, which would (if we put it into a slightly more revealing context) be the same problem we'd encounter if we were talking about a strategy for winning a war, or even a battle. It's a decision-making paradigm that attempts to minimize the consequences of error, and therefore it is scientific in the general sense. But that creates a political dilemma that almost no one has talked about.

Basically the dilemma is that if you follow an appropriate method, and do so correctly, you end up giving your political opponent amunition. To follow a procedure that gives you the best chance of making a good decision you either have to assume guilt, and devote all or most of your resources to falsifying that hypothesis; or you have to assume innocence, and devote all or most of your assets and resources to falsifying that hypothesis. Politics really comes into the argument with respect to which of the two methods you use, and where you set the thresholds. That part is political.

Note that no one involved in the decision to go to war in Iraq used either of these methods appropriately, or well. Sometimes people attempted to use a mix of the two, as did Blix. (You'd have thought he knew better.) The "peace" movement used the "innocent" hypothesis, and then never did much to disprove their theory. The Bush folks used the "guilty" hypothesis (which is appropriate, I think, given the risks) but then devoted most of their resources to falsifying their political opponent's hypothesis. And that sewed the seeds for misunderstanding and misrepresentation. We ended up with a really nice little crop of memes.

Good method strikes most people as nitpicking and tedious, but there's good reason for it. It's not simply that it helps make good decisions. It also prevents you from second-guessing yourself should the hypothesis you've failed to falsify nevertheless turn out to be false. Second guessing, which is what we're doing now, is still just guessing. It's not a very robust way to go about decisions with such dire consequences. Even if you get the "right" answer, it's not reproducable. It's like using a stopped watch, which is always right twice a day, to make it to your appointments on time.

So again, the political risk in following an appropriate method correctly is that you'd be providing evidence for your political opponents' arguments, if you have leaks (which you will). But I think that pitfall could be avoided if you fight the political battle over the appropriate method first, so that everyone is clear about what's being done, and why. Later you can make a political argument about where to set the threshold for falsification. And in this case I think you'd need to have some pretty convincing evidence that Saddam did not have WMD. You'd need 99.99% assurance that your gulty hypothesis (that he had WMDs or programs capable of producing them soon) was false.

And the truth is, about the only thing that would have met that test would have been full and complete cooperation and disclosure from the outset, on all aspects of the weapons program. Unfettered U2 flights, safe harbor interviews with weapons scientists, the works.

Well, maybe there's some other way, short of going to war, that we could have been 99.99% certain that the guilty assumption was false (that he had no WMD programs). Except, of course, that he did have WMD programs!

So, I think it's clear that even if we had used appropriate method correctly, the result would have been the same. There's just no way we could have avoided the decision to go to war given the circumstances. To do so would have simply been incompetent. and reckless

But it would be really useful if we started getting our methodological ducks in a row, because not all such decisions are going to be this clear cut and unambiguous, especially if the consequences of going to war loom larger than they did in Iraq. (In N. Korea, for instance.)

Posted by Demosophist at 01:58 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 05, 2004

"Bearing Arms"

Someone from the anti-American left in England recently had this to say about the current goings-on in Iran, thinking she was making a concession:

If the Iranian people decide for themselves that they want a different society, and manage to create it without a civil war or any other kind of war, then great.

In other words, as long as the US doesn't get involved and as long as no one has to fight for anything a pro-Democracy movement would get grudging support, though not much respect.

This attentiveness of the left to the concept of "national sovereignty" struck me as out of whack, not just because it's inconsistent with the universalism of the socialist ideal, but because it doesn't really seem to understand the concept of sovereignty at all. The person who uttered this statement, by the way, doesn't seem to have nearly as much aversion to "civil war" if it's some sort of insurgency against "US Imperialism." And the more I thought about it the more I began to see the linkages between this neglect of individual sovereignty in favor of state sovereignty, and a general theme. It seems to have more in common with the "states rights" arguments of the Copperheads during the Civil War and the Jim Crow era, as well as current "enlightened" attitudes about "gun control," than it does with genuine liberalism. My guess (and it's no more than that) isthat the attitude rests on a bias that says that individual sovereignty must have relatively little value, because it's... well, an individual value. How could it possibly amount to much as a contribution to broader social value?

A recent survey of habitual criminals in the US indicated that what these law-breakers fear most isn't the police, but armed civilians. The notion that the people they're used to predating with impunity might be carrying a concealed firearm gives them the heebie-jeebies, as well it should. An armed citizenry not only raises the price of predation for criminals (especially if "concealed carry" raises the level of uncertainty about who might be armed), but it also fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and the state, since citizens who assume part of the responsibility for their own protection no longer tend to see the state as the sole source of honey in the rock.

The argument for gun control is that it reduces a criminal's access to guns. I'd certainly prefer that no criminals had them. And it's probably true that there's a kind of "arms race" between the population/police and criminals that's fed by the availability of firearms. But the social contract that excludes firearms from the general public is no longer working, even in places that were the bastion of such "civilizing" laws, as the UK. The "solution" to crime is complex, but the key involves creating and maintaining intact families. (See Fukuyama, Armor, etc..) And disarming a poor population of law-abiding people in the inner cities is about that last thing you'd want to do to provide families with the security they need. So to reduce crime in the inner city one needs to, at least, raise the cost of predation to potential predators. But one also needs to increase the value of individual sovereignty, because only in that way do you make the value of opposing crime worth the price. Oppositon to crime, like oppostion to oppression, isn't costless.

Inner city gangs would start to evaporate if the citizens were armed, which of course puts the lie to left's whole "haves vs. have nots" nonsense. A good "concealed carry" law in the inner city would devastate the gangs, because there are a lot more law abiding people than gang members. And as families stabilize and children are nurtured by better home enivronments that value individual sovereignty, the enclaves of poverty would, themselves, begin to shrink.

But the inner city isn't the only place that cultivates social disruption. There's an analog with the "community of nations" as well. Citizens of free, law abiding, and prosperous societies have more to lose from criminal predation, but they also have greater resistance to predatory ideologies like Salafism and Qutbism, because they are able to maintain more individual integrity, rather than drawing their sense integrity and identity from the group. Citizens of such states also make better warriors, and contrary to conventional wisdom, are more willing and better able to fight to maintain their individual sovereignty. They are, however, generally more reluctant to choose violence as the initial resolution of disputes, again because they have more to lose. They prefer adjudication, and generally fight only when attacked.

And that's, ironically, one of the main reasons for the opposition to the Bush doctrine in the US and Europe. The doctrine has not been well explained or justified as an essentially defensive posture. (For a far better exposition of this reasoning than you're likely to see on the lips of any administration official see Armed Liberal's recent post on Winds of Change.) Such a policy is designed not to increase but to diminish long term violence (and not necessarily by the terrorists or terror states, either). The ultimate objective is to reduce the likelihood and necessity of our response, which has far more destructive potential than theirs.

Sovereignty is really the objective, and where national sovereignty impedes individual sovereignty don't expect the US to give the former much respect. We're finally getting our priorities straight. Now we need to do a little teaching and selling.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 04, 2004

The High Point in Kerry's Campaign

has already passed. Just remember who predicted Edwards before it became obvious to all. And why is it obvious now, if not a week ago? Well, if the conventional wisdom is true, that Dems are so incensed about Bush that they'll overlook their doctrinal differences to win, than it ought to become increasingly obvious from here on out that Kerry can't, both because he has no appeal at all in the South and because his appeal in the North is decidedly conditional.

And the good Doctor from the Northeast has already been spurned as a non-contender. The fellow can't even manage his own campaign resources, or keep from dumping his best assets to save face. And because Edwards is less tainted by the "Copperhead" associations, he'll pick up the Lieberman votes now that Joe can't use them. This will add to the momentum he has picked up in SC and (quite possibly) in OK, where he may even beat out Clark. Finally, have you noticed what a stunner the guy is? He could charm the socks off Christiane Amanpour, which is no mean feat. Now that it's basically a two person race the "charisma gap" will be unmistakable.

The notion that either Clark or Kerry could give Bush a run on the National Security issue is just a patent appeal to the presumed stupidity of voters, who'll supposedly swoon over military men with all their pretty medals. How foolish can Terry Mcauliffe be? Well, that's rhetorical I guess. These are serious issues, and that sort of pandering just won't cut it with adults. Not even anti-Bush adults.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:44 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 03, 2004

Between the Lines of a Prison Masterpiece

Abu Noor raises some critical issues concerning the life and work of Sayyid Qutb in a comment below. He claims I don't understand Islam, which is a valid claim, because it's open-ended. I'm not sure I understand Christianity, either. And what I've read of Islam, in the writings of Bernard Lewis and Max Weber, mainly, will never make the Islamic canon. Nor will Weber's version of the Protestant Reformation ever be quite kosher with "traditional Christianity." But I still maintain that Qutbism isn't quite Islam, although Abu may have a point that it's a consistent extension of traditional Islam. If so, however, that's hardly comforting.

Sayyid Qutb neither killed anyone in his life nor did he commit suicide.

I'm fairly sure you could say that about a number of notoriously evil men, including Adolph Hitler, prior to his ascendancy. (Discounting what Hitler may have done during WWI, which was mainly sitting in a trench firing occasionally at the enemy lines and making blind charges through poison gas.) I certainly would not be surprised to learn that he never killed anyone "in person," as it were. And I'm certain that Karl Marx was never involved in anything more serious than a pub fight. To make the claim that this has any serious relevance to the implications of the totalitarian ideology he espoused strikes me as not very distant from the "big lie."

Show me one passage where Qutb called for anyone to commit suicide.

Well, that's an interesting challenge because it involves interpreting the intentions of a man who wrote under the close physical scrutiny and control of his mortal enemies. It is doubtful that, under these circumstances, anyone would promote such a strategic methodology in so many words without being hanged on the spot. Nor, as I recall, was it ever quite clear what Hitler meant by a "final solution" until it became all too clear. Plausible deniability is the name of the game for prison authors. And I'm fairly certain Qutb would not have used the term "suicide" anyway (which is probably proscribed in Islam), choosing instead a word like "martyrdom." However the rapid emergence of the strategy all over the Middle East suddenly in the 20th Century, and promoted by many groups claiming inspiration from Qutb, suggests that someone was sure talking about it, filling in the gaps that Qutb left to preserve a necessary appearance. Hitler didn't mention it either, in Mein Kampf, nor did Lenin explicitly. Instead what they did was what we political sociologist types tend to call "legitimating a behavior." They opened the door to it, with a wink and a nod.

And he did this not necessarily by exhorting people to kill and die in every passage, but by inexorably linking martyrdom and truth. Indeed, as Paul Berman points out:

You are meant to suppose that a true reader of Sayyid Qutb is someone who, in the degree that he properly digests Qutb's message, will act on what has been digested; and action may well bring on a martyr's death. To read is to glide forward toward death; and gliding toward death means you have understood what you are reading. [Many derived similar inspiration from the "harsh angel," Che Guevara. They were pied pipers of death.]
"The Koran points to another contemptible characteristic of the Jews: their craven desire to live, no matter at what price and regardless of quality, honor and dignity."

The implied message runs throughout his writings, that to live an ordinarily productive life is to fail the standard, and that one must die for the truth in order that one's life have meaning and permanence. This is, with some irony, precisely the opposite of the belief that emerged through radical Protestantism, after Cromwell at least. Ironic because both systems believed in predestination, a concept that is rather odd-sounding to modern ears. Islam always had this characteristic, having never adopted the Calvinist doctrine of the terrible "double decree." A Calvinist who died without having produced, through the arc of his life and manifested in a lifework or "calling," evidence of his elect status in the afterlife, provided evidence that he was damned. And this was a powerful "legitimation" of acquisition and material success, not for its own sake, but to produce "the sign."

Puritanical Islam, as Max Weber points out, never came to this conclusion. Instead, it tended to produce warrior cults of various kinds, and a common and popular fatalism (kismet). But it never produced the sort of exultation in despair that one finds in Islamism today, because it never linked up with the totalitarian notions from the European Counter-Enlightenment (chiefly the notion of alienation that runs throughout Qutb's work, and fairly rings off of every page: what he calls the "hideous schizophrenia of modern life").

Perhaps you're right that Qutbism is an extension of an Islam that never resolved the dilemmas that emerged during the Enlightenment and the run up to the Industrial Revolution. It seems there were only two ways one could go, to follow either the French model, or the American. And as you know most of the Islamic world (as well as most of the world) was far more fascinated with the French Revolution and with Napoleon than they ever were with the American Revolution and the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It isn't surprising that the ideas crept imperceptibly into Islam, is it? So perhaps Qutbism isn't such a radical departure, and you're correct. But it's hardly reassuring that Islam has found its "totalitarian Muslim voice" after its flirtation with a second-rate secular imitation of European Fascism/Marxism, cribbed by the Christian, Michael Aflaq.

In one sense Qutb gave lip service to moderation, repeating the words of the First Caliph to spare children and the elderly. But on a far more grave level he had his own version of the totalitarian Ur-myth:

What could it possibly mean to treat the entire Muslim population of the world, apart from the followers of his own movement, as jahili barbarians who were bringing about the extermination of Islam?
"[Those] who claim to be Muslims but perpetrate corruption, who oppose the implementation of God's law [the "vanguard of true Muslims," in other words], are seriously lacking in faith and loyalty to God and Islam. They shall have no protection whatsoever against God's punishment, which is bound to come, keen as they may be to avoid it.

And though he couldn't specify that punishment precisely, since he wrote those words while in a prison cell, it's not difficult to see that he wasn't talking about a sudden bolt of lightning from the blue. He had in mind a revolution that, like the revolution of Marx, sped up the rightful evolution of mankind toward that adolescently naive promised land of perfect freedom/submission. And the fact that it's an impossible concept means simply that what we get is the consolation prize: death on a massive scale. Well, at least it's something, right?

In his commentary on Surah 2 Qutb gives us a pretty strong hint about how he intends to make an "end run" around the First Caliph's constraining "rules of Jihadic engagement:"

"The Surah tells the Muslims that, in the fight to uphold God's universal Truth, lives will have to be sacrificed. Those who risk their lives and go out to fight, and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the cause of God are honorable people, pure of heart and blessed of soul. But the great surprise is that those among them who are killed in the struggle must not be considered or described as dead. They continue to live, as God Himself clearly states.

To all intents and purposes, those people may very well appear lifeless, but life and death are not judged by superficial physical means alone. Life is chiefly characterized by activity, growth, and persistence, while death is a state of total loss of function, of complete inertia and lifelessness. But the death of those who are killed for the cause of God [note, not in the cause of God] gives more impetus to the cause, which continues to thrive on their blood. Their influence on those they leave behind also grows and spreads. Thus after their death they remain an active force in shaping the life of their community and giving it direction. It is in this sense that such people, having sacrificed their lives for the sake of God, retain their active existence in everyday life...."

He can probably maintain plausible deniability with his jailors, in spite of the fact that this notion is just completely crazy, by claiming that he's talking about those who die in battle or are executed, but within the totality of his work the use of such a concept merely to comfort the widows and orphans left behind by the martyrs would be a terrible waste of such noble rhetoric. Something tells me it has already been used to greater purpose, justifying self-execution and murder on the grounds that, in the eyes of Truth, no one has really died. Wanna bet?

Posted by Demosophist at 04:06 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 02, 2004

Kerry vs New Billary vs...?

From The New Republic (via Andrew Sullivan):

" Kerry wants to reimpose an outdated Vietnam Syndrome on American foreign policy, reestablish an international order that collapsed on 9/11, and return Clinton-era phoniness to the White House without any of Clinton's redeeming brass and Third Way creativity."

Fat chance. But I'm still not counting Edwards completely out. Dems seem to be belatedly awakening to the weaknesses of Kerry, and may yet decide to go with an alternative. I think Edwards is still their best shot, and his best primary campaign strategy is to promote himself as "the new and improved Billary." But it's probably too late. Too bad the Panthers lost, it might have given him a bounce. Ultimately, however, he'd have a really tough time beating Bush because George is just more "Howdyesque."

Posted by Demosophist at 10:54 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack